Hiking Club Trail to Prairie Overlook

William O'Brien State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, September 27th, 2014
Last Updated: Friday, December 1st, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 6.3 miles roundtrip
Time 3 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

One of the closest Minnesota State Parks to the Twin Cities, this park is the ideal escape to nature without requiring a long drive. The hike described here is the best way to see what the park has to offer since it circles through a large area of the park with diverse landscapes ranging from prairie to wetlands to hardwood forest. This is the extended version of the Hiking Club Trail, adding the Hardwood Hills Trail and Wedge Hill Savanna Trail for some extra mileage and hills -- it's only one extra mile, and totally worth it.

Dogs are allowed on leash. Although Hiking Club Trails are usually family friendly, the trail here is one of the longest in the Hiking Club program in Minnesota State Parks, even without my added diversions. For a family friendly hike, head to the day use area and do the 1.6 mile Riverside Trail Loop; you can swim at the beach afterward or rent canoes, kayaks, or paddleboards. You can only hike this route in the three warm seasons since it is reserved for cross country skiing in the winter. The proximity to the Twin Cities means that there are usually people on the trails, especially on weekends. You'll have more solitude the further you hike away from the parking lot and the campground.

From the parking lot, head north on the trail near the interpretive center. Stay straight at the next intersection, and you'll soon be passing the Savanna Campground on your right. After the campground, you'll walk through some wetlands before reaching the cool tunnel under the railroad pictured below. Go through the tunnel to continue the hike.

You get to walk through this tunnel under the railroad

You get to walk through this tunnel under the railroad
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Once you pass through the tunnel, the terrain suddenly shifts from being mostly flat with prairie and wetlands to hilly forest. Keep going straight at the next intersection, then turn right on the Hardwood Hills Trail after passing a shelter. This trail climbs uphill before hugging the park boundary. Here you can see some desktop-background-worthy green fields beyond the park, as pictured below.
Lush green farm fields beyond the park's boundary

Lush green farm fields beyond the park's boundary
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After you return to the main trail, turn right. There will be some slight ups and downs, then you will continue straight past the next intersection. Turn right onto the Prairie Overlook Trail, where -- unsurprisingly -- the forest opens up into prairie and you'll begin climbing a hill. At the top, you will have impressive views like pictured at the top of the page. This vista is what makes the hike worthwhile.

Continue down the hill, then turn right at the intersection ahead. The trail crosses the railroad tracks (the same ones from the tunnel earlier) and merges with the Wetland Trail. Again, no surprises as you walk through the marshy area like pictured below. When the trail splits, stay to the right. Turn right at the following intersection onto the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail.
The Wetland Trail lives up to its name with this environment

The Wetland Trail lives up to its name with this environment
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You will begin climbing uphill to another prairie, like pictured below. The trail curves around through the prairie, then meets the main trail once again. Turn right and continue straight until you reach the parking area.
The prairie grasses of the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail

The prairie grasses of the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail
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I hope you enjoyed this trip around William O'Brien State Park. There is some splendid nature here, and the varied landscape and terrain keeps the hike interesting. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Directions

From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 35 north and exit at Minnesota Highway 97. Turn right, and follow the signs for Minnesota Highway 97 at the two traffic circles ahead. Stay on Minnesota Highway 97, then turn right onto Minnesota Highway 95 (St. Croix Trail). Look for signs for the park, then turn right. Pay your fee at the park entrance, then turn left at the stop sign ahead and turn right soon after to reach the parking lot by the interpretive center.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). There are flush toilets and educational exhibits in the interpretive center.

External Links

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